For more than a decade, Ghost Adventures has been spooking up the airwaves of the Travel Channel, "capturing groundbreaking proof of the paranormal" on camera in different haunted destinations across the globe and using the latest scientific gadgets and technology to obtain physical evidence of spirits.
With the show’s recent leap to the brand-new streaming service discovery+, lead Ghost Adventures Crew (GAC) investigator Zak Bagans and his fellow investigators Aaron Goodwin, Billy Tolley, and Jay Wasley hope to keep capturing ghosts and ghouls, and uncovering more truths behind each haunted mystery, for another decade and beyond.
We caught up with Bagans to get some behind-the-scenes secrets about what it takes to capture full-bodied apparitions and some of the creepiest moments throughout the show’s storied history of paranormal exploration.
Ghost Adventures's first adventure wasn’t the first episode of the TV show. The series actually began as a feature-length documentary on the then-named Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) in 2007. The documentary featured Bagans, Goodwin, and former investigator Nick Groff tracking paranormal activity in Virginia City and Goldfield, Nevada, locations such as The Washoe Club and the Goldfield Hotel.
Bagans tells Mental Floss that the original idea for the movie and series “came from me having an experience back in about 2002, when I was living in Detroit, Michigan. Then that kind of put my mindset into exploring the paranormal and trying to get answers for what I experienced.”
The GAC eventually returned to these spooked-out locations during the series' fourth, fifth, and seventh seasons.
2. Zak Bagans has been having paranormal adventures since he was a kid.
Can you hunt ghosts even if you didn’t know ghost hunting was a thing? For Bagans, the answer is a resounding yes.
“I believe spirits that are around me ever since I was little guide me and protect me,” Bagans tells Mental Floss. “It kind of inspired me to initially explore these mining towns in Nevada, and once we got there things just started clicking. It just felt right, and led to the Ghost Adventures documentary.”
“When I come home from investigating, I'm around it all the time," Bagans says of his paranormal adventures. "It's not necessarily that I've chosen this. I have the sense as though I'm supposed to do this, not just for television, but also for just my own self.”
4. Practice makes perfect—even in ghost hunting.
Investigating the paranormal for more than a decade brings with it a ton of wins and losses and ups and down. Bagans says that, even when trying to capture ghosts on camera, practice makes perfect.
“The biggest thing that I have evolved into or have noticed over the years is my ability to detect spirits and energies—seeing things with my third eye,” Bagans says about him and his GAC colleagues becoming professional paranormal investigators. “When you investigate, you're going to possibly come into contact with good spirits, and then you've got to protect yourself from the bad ones. After this long, we’ve learned to live with them, to deal with attachments and many different energies. And I know now how to interpret those feelings that I get. We know what they mean.”
Bagans likened the evolution of the crew’s investigations to learning to play an instrument: “[In the beginning] we just didn't know how to play it or tune it. Through the years and through all these investigations, I feel as though I can play any key or any note now.”
One never knows what to expect when walking into a haunted location, especially when it’s in someone’s home. To the crew, and Bagans in particular, a heightened sense of empathy has helped with personal haunting investigations.
“I am very empathic, so I do connect with not only spirits emotionally, but also people,” he says. “I use that ability to really help me gauge the authenticity and the severity of what any living people are going through, which will put me in the right direction of how we want each investigation to go.”
6. Ghost Adventures may look a little different on discovery+.
Ghost Adventures spent 12 seasons investigating more than 200 paranormal mysteries on the Travel Channel before making discovery+ its new home in early 2021. The change of viewing venue isn’t just to align the show with all the cord-cutters out there who happen to be into ghost-hunting shows. Besides loving the ability for viewers to watch every single investigation (“They can kind of read the whole book so far, so to speak,” Bagans says), the Ghost Adventures frontman explained that the platform-switch was made to intentionally push the boundaries of what they can do with the format of the show.
“It has allowed us now to provide some more original content, and it's definitely going to expand what we're doing in our investigations,” he says, citing the recent two-hour Cecil Hotel special, and offering that—without spoilers—the show aims to put out all the kinds of new non-episode-specific content in 2021.
Speaking of the Cecil Hotel: According to Bagans, the infamous Los Angeles locale—which, in addition to being the scene of violence and murders, is where the Black Dahlia was purported to have been spotted before her disappearance and where Night Stalker Richard Ramirez was rumored to have stayed—is the one place he’d most like to reinvestigate.
“It really truly left its mark on me in more ways than a lot of other locations have," Bagans says. "It's just so absolutely mysterious and there are reasons why nobody's ever been allowed to investigate that for years. Just walking in there—you see the physical building, but if you were able to put on some interdimensional goggles, that hotel would have a lot more hallways, it would have a lot more doorways, and a lot more rooms.”
8. There are some locations the Ghost Adventures Crew would rather never revisit.
From the dreaded Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to Italy's Poveglia Island, the GAC has been to basically every notable haunted location across the globe. But there are three locations in particular where the team vowed to never return.
The first is the so-called Demon House, the Gary, Indiana, structure from the 2008 Ghost Adventures-adjacent spinoff documentary of the same name. It was here that a series of demonic possessions occurred, allegedly leaving team members—including Bagans—with vision problems. He eventually had the structure razed.
“I have no intention to go back to that land. It was a demonic virus,” Bagans says. “Everybody asks, ‘Why didn't you keep it up and allow other paranormal investigators in there?’ Well, did you see what happened to all of us?”
The other two locations Bagans says will never again be seen on the show anytime soon are the Goatman’s Bridge in Denton, Texas, and McRaven Mansion in Vicksburg, Mississippi. "I've been to a lot of different demonic places, but in those locations it seemed like it was really just affecting those people," Bagans says. "Those were some of the most terrifying moments of my life."
Over the years, Bagans and company have conducted hundreds of investigations—and have likely used an equal number of paranormal tools and technologies to assist them. How else are you supposed to capture those elusive specters? According to Bagans, they try not to leave anything up to chance.
“We're not just running around abandoned buildings; we take all of the cases absolutely seriously,” Bagans says. “Every location is different ... Before I get there, we have done a little bit of research on the nature of the hauntings, the history of the location, [and knowing] if anybody's been affected ... Then we lay out a kind of game plan.”
According to Bagans, the team creates a tactical-style investigation plan for each location, including assembling certain types of equipment like the Ovilus device (which translates environmental readings into words), the Polterpod (a spirit communication device), and an electromagnetic field (EMF) detector (for detecting electromagnetic fields). The plan will also determine whether there's a need for any additional specialists—like “If we need an exorcist,” Bagans says.
10. It takes hours and hours to catch the paranormal "proof" you see on Ghost Adventures.
It’s one thing to actually capture a ghost on camera; it’s another to make sure the GAC remembers where and when it happens during an investigation. When Bagans and company return to their home base after scoping out a location, the task of combing through hours and hours of footage for possible evidence of paranormal activity usually lies with one man: Billy Tolley.
“He is absolutely incredible, just such a sharp eye,” Bagans says. “He goes through all the footage, all the audio. In fact, right after I’m done talking with you, he's coming over to review everything from a new investigation with me.”
Once they work to mark down each potential paranormal occurrence during their time in a location, they begin to structure the episode.
“If we review 20 hours of footage from a couple of cameras, and we capture a light anomaly that happened to disappear inside of me, then all of a sudden I felt a bit of rage, that's pretty compelling,” Bagans says. “So, those help structure the big episode moments we want to include.”
Fans should know that the GAC has a reputation of capturing compelling evidence as well as debunking certain supposedly haunted spaces based on their experiences at each location. Bagans was quick to offer some pointers based on slips-ups from previous would-be paranormal encounters.
“When you do an investigation, it's always best to put your infrared (IR) light source away from the lens of the camera,” he says. “A lot of security cameras have the IR light that goes in a ring around the camera, and you pick up a lot of dust, which looks like it's snowing and flurries. But when you put your IR light away from the camera, you don't capture any of that.”
Hoaxers take note: Use an IR light to fake ghost footage as your next party trick.
12. The COVID-19 pandemic has streamlined Ghost Adventures.
As happened with so many other professionals, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly shut down many of the best laid plans for Bagans and his crew. But they eventually adapted, which led to the four-part miniseries, Ghost Adventures: Quarantine, in June 2020. The episode centered around Bagans, Tolley, Goodwin, and Wasley locking themselves in Bagans’s Haunted Museum in Las Vegas and investigating its many haunted artifacts, including Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s Volkswagen van, some haunted dolls, the so-called Devil’s Rocking Chair, and the mysterious Dybbuk Box. To Bagans, the logistics of putting together a TV series amid the pandemic were a minor setback.
“With COVID as tragic as it has been, with how many people have been affected and have lost their lives, it's truly a tragic thing," he says. "But doing this for so many years, being in so many different types of locations, and dealing with different types of people, we've been able to learn how to also adapt to our situations very well.”
“The Cecil Hotel and even the Comedy Store—these are places that the pandemic allowed us to investigate that we probably would have never been able to investigate just because they've had to shut down,” Bagans says.
14. The wildest paranormal experience Zak Bagans ever witnessed involved rapper Post Malone.
Widely considered the world’s most haunted object, the Dybbuk Box at the Haunted Museum supposedly houses a malicious spirit from Jewish folklore and leaves a curse on anyone who touches it. In June 2018, that spirit allegedly cursed rapper Post Malone, who happened to be at the museum with Bagans.
Bagans explains that when he removed the plexiglass cover from around the box to touch the World War II-era cabinet for the first time, Malone touched his shoulder, and thus transferred the curse, causing the “Sunflower” and “Circles” musician some seriously bad luck.
First, Malone's private plane had to make an emergency landing after its tires blew off; armed thieves attempted to break into a California home they believed to be his; and his Rolls-Royce was involved in a serious car accident.
Bagans cites the curse as the wildest thing he had ever witnessed during an investigation, saying, “Four or five months ago Post Malone went on the Joe Rogan podcast and told Joe that it was the most fear that he's ever seen a human being have.”
Bagans revealed that he’s creating a new exhibit around a recently acquired artifact: the supposedly cursed clown doll from the movie Poltergeist.
“We were moving the clown and when my assistant touched it he had a really weird feeling, and he's not sensitive to these things at all,” Bagans says. “The very next day he got into a car accident; a few days later, he got into another car accident and had to be taken to the hospital by an ambulance; four days after that, his house was broken into; then a few days after that, a family member of his was diagnosed with a very serious medical condition. So I feel as though these are things you have to pay attention to. I feel the magnitude of these items' powers are very misunderstood.”
16. There’s one place Zak Bagans thinks amateur investigators should go.
“Room 11, the Silver Queen Hotel,” he says, citing his experience during the original Ghost Adventures documentary and the season 6 "Return to Virginia City" episode. “That room inspired me to put a number 11 tattoo on my arm.”
It was there, during the original documentary, that the GAC captured what they claimed was the arm of a woman named Elizabeth (who died by suicide in the room) after Bagans provoked the ghost in an insensitive way. In the season 6 episode, “I apologized to her, and she acknowledged my apology and it made me really emotional,” Bagans says. “I felt her pain, I felt her presence. It's just incredible, you know, these experiences with the paranormal spirits—not many people know how powerful they can be.”
New episodes of Ghost Adventures, including the Ghost Adventures: Cecil Hotel special and the full library, can be found on discovery+. An all-new episode, “House of Brujería,” begins streaming on Friday, February 12.